Conference vs. Unconference

I’ve been thinking lately about how an unconference style event for an association could work. I’ll be posting some ideas on that later on. I thought it would be good to start by comparing the characteristics of conferences and unconferences. So, in no particular or meaningful order, here is my initial list:

Conference Unconference
Attendees Participants
Exhibitors Participants
Recruiting speakers Recruiting participants
Content planning Content facilitation
Direct marketing Word of mouth marketing
Handouts Wikis
12 month planning cycle 12 week planning cycle
Sponsorships Donations
Once a year As often as needed and desired
Large budgets Shoe-string budgets
Maximize value for organizers Maximize value for participants
Best practices Innovation
Top down Bottom up
Wisdom of experts Wisdom of crowds
Magazine coverage 2 months later Live blogging/podcasting
Slides Stories
Panels Conversations
Best practices Practicing
Hierarchy Networks
Directive methods participatory methods
Participants Contributors/creators
Speakers Conversation starters
Sharing information Learning collaboratively
Instruction Discovery
Best learning in the hallway It’s all hallway!

I’m sure a lot more can be added to this but it’s a start.

I also just created a Wikipedia entry for unconference. I was surprised it didn’t exist yet.

Update: Added a couple more items suggested by Rich Westerfield. (I changed Powerpoint to Slides.)

Update 2: Added several more contributed in the comments by Nancy White and Jeff De Cagna. Thanks Nancy and Jeff!

16 thoughts on “Conference vs. Unconference

  1. A few more:

    Participants/contributors or creators

    Speakers/conversation starters

    Product/authentic experience

    Sharing information/learning collaboratively

    One interesting idea/An limitless number of compelling insights


    Everyone in the same physical place/anyone, anywhere and in their own ways

    “Best learning takes place in the hallways”/It’s all the hallway

    Let’s keep adding!

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  3. David,

    I just love this idea. Giving the format a name – brings it to life. I have been running conferences and facilitating knowledge cafes for the past two years or more with many of these principals in mind.

    Your posting inspires me to further develop the concept and encourage traditional conference organizers to change their ways – though this won’t be easy 🙂

    David Gurteen

  4. Love this. I’m reading “World Cafe – Furthering the Future by Having Conversations that Matter” – very similiar concepts. Co-activity brought to life.

    Another one:
    Experts/Passionate Users
    Agenda/Purposeful Flow


  5. You know, I had my first world cafe experience last December and really got a lot out of it. As I’ve been thinking about unconferences, I see using a world cafe session as part of the kick off could be crucial to warming everyone up and getting the ideas flowing for identifying the content and who will be doing what during the rest of the meeting.

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